Faraway tastes in the neighbourhood

Tired of having the usual Spanish, French or Italian fare? BT Weekend surfaces new spots where you can feed on more exotic eats from Denmark, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, and even the Alps.

Sea Salt Caribbean Deli
Pasar Bella, 200 Turf Club Road, #02-06/#02-K40
9767 8313
Opens 11am to 9pm (Weekdays), 11am to 10pm (Weekends)
enquiriesseasalt@gmail.com

The truism that mother knows best is one that chef Ivan Agramonte, who hails from the Dominican Republic, lives by. After all, when he contemplated opening his own Caribbean deli here in Singapore, the first thing he did was to call his mother.

"I asked my mother to come here for a few months to help me fine-tune my recipes," says the 39-year-old, referring to the Sea Salt Caribbean Deli he opened in Bukit Timah last September. "I would cook, she would try the food, and tell me what to add. It was a challenging experience dealing with my mum, but that's the best way to keep the food authentic," he adds with a sheepish laugh.

Under her guidance, Chef Agramonte assembled a simple traditional menu of dishes including three main dishes and three sandwiches. One of his best-selling dishes is yaroa, a trio of beef, pork and chicken, served with either moros (rice and beans) or roasted roots ($12 for 150 grams).

Also on the menu is a pulled-pork sandwich ($14), and fish and chips served with plantain chips, yam chips and sweet potato fries ($18-20) instead of regular potatoes.

Chef Agramonte was born and raised in Santo Domingo, and came to Singapore to work in 1996. He reveals that his first time cooking was at the age of 11, when his mother was out working and he would have to stay home and cook dinners for his nine siblings.

"A typical Caribbean dish is rich in flavours, full of herbs, vegetables and spices, and everything is very natural. We have a very big mixture of cultures that developed for so many years, that's why you get a bit of the best of everything, And it's very different from what you have here," explains the chef, who is now a permanent resident and lives with his Singaporean wife.

According to him, the response to his food has been very encouraging so far, with about 70 per cent of his customers being locals who mostly visit the Pasar Bella on weekends with their families. In fact, he reveals that he was even offered a few opportunities to open outlets in the central business district area, but will probably not be doing that any time soon.

"I do want to offer my cuisine to other Singaporeans but there's not enough manpower at the moment, plus we have to focus on this outlet first. First priority is that I want to offer the best that I can, and I cannot settle for anything less than that. That's the only way I can do my food justice," says Chef Agramonte.

Gaest
21 McCallum Street, #01-01 The Clift
6634 0922
Opens from 7.30am to 4pm

These are not normal sandwiches. For example, the smoked salmon, mayonnaise and sauerkraut are not extricated from a packet, bottle or can and then layered one on top of the other between slices of bread.

No. All the ingredients used in Stinne Hoffman and Kim Blangsted Henriksen's sandwiches are homemade. They marinate their own cabbage and leeks, make their own mayonnaise and get their salmon locally smoked from Greenwood Fish Market.

The use of humble ingredients and style of cooking adopted by the duo is a part of the culinary revolution known as "new Nordic" cuisine. It focuses on going back to basics by employing techniques such as smoking and pickling, as well as the use of ancient ingredients such as herbs.

"It's becoming a very big thing in Copenhagen but also worldwide," Mr Henriksen explains. "There is basically not a lot of Scandinavian food in Singapore. I thought that I could start something utilising my love for bread to introduce new Nordic flavours in Singapore."

Mr Henriksen and Ms Hoffman opened Gaest last December after about nine months of planning and preparation. The 400 square feet deli can seat roughly 34 people indoors and outdoors.

Mr Henriksen also emphasised the importance of the deli's design - clean and minimalistic - to the overall concept of Gaest. "The look and feel of the place is fairly Scandinavian and the chairs are a Danish design classic," he says. "There have been some very Danish restaurants but they target homesick Danes. I don't want to do that; I want to show other people what modern Danish cuisine and design is."

The deli specialises in traditional Danish sandwiches with a modern twist. "In Denmark, we are very big on open-faced sandwiches on rye bread. We were strongly inspired by these flavours. We actually get a lot of Danes who come down and recognise some of the traditional flavours but we make them healthier and modern."

He cites the example of the deli's most popular item, the pork sandwich ($13). Traditionally, a Danish pork sandwich has roast pork, pickled cucumber and cabbage similar to sauerkraut from a can. But at Gaest, it gets a new Nordic twist with the introduction of fresh elements.

"We make our own mustard mayonnaise and instead of sauerkraut from a tin, we marinate cabbage in freshly squeezed orange juice. We also put parsley and vinegar that we make everyday as well as thinly sliced apples to contrast the greasiness of the pork," he explains, neglecting to add that the sandwich's x-factor lies in its generous portion of pork crackling.

Aside from sandwiches, the deli also offers homemade jam, muesli and fresh fruit ($7) for breakfast and brunch on the weekends. Homemade drinks such as the elderflower and rosemary soda ($5) are also based on the principles of new Nordic cuisine.

Mamacitas
7 Maxwell Road, #01-50
Amoy Street Food Centre
Opens 8am to 3.30pm daily

Amid the aunties and uncles at Amoy Street Food Centre selling a plethora of local hawker fare, there is Cindy Castro Vega, serving up authentic Costa Rican dishes such as crispy tacos and burritos.

The 35-year-old first came to Singapore from Costa Rica six years ago on holiday to visit her sister after quitting her job in human resources and owning a small business that built apartments for rent. She met her husband here and decided to stay for good, but the life of a stay-at-home mum was not enough for her. "I love to cook, it's my passion. I was always cooking at home so I wanted to open something very small here," she says.

In late 2012, a space between a coffee stall and a fish porridge outlet became available and she quickly took it up. However, within one month of opening Mamacitas, Ms Vega was forced to close down. "I got pregnant (her third child) and my baby was going to be premature. My doctor said that I had to close down and stay at home. I was very sad," she says.

But just several months after giving birth, Ms Vega eagerly got her stall up and running again.

Now, just six months after the re-opening of Mamacitas, Ms Vega has plans to open a second stall in Lau Pa Sat. She says, "I am looking for something slightly bigger but definitely not a restaurant yet, it's too expensive and I want to grow slowly."

Ms Vega emphasises that authentic Costa Rican food is missing from Singapore's gastronomic landscape. "There are South American and Mexican restaurants, but I always complain to my husband, 'You people don't have the real, real food!'" She laughs. "That is why I opened Mamacitas. Most places in Singapore are not authentic. I think that maybe it's because the chefs are not Latin," she explains.

One of Ms Vega's signature dishes is the burrito ($6.90), a wrap stuffed generously with beef or chicken, fried onions, tomatoes and lettuce; then drizzled with a rich cheese sauce. Ms Vega notes that this is perhaps the most popular option with customers and with its heaping portions of fried onions, meat, and cheese sauce that make it a meal on its own.

Another signature dish, passed down from Ms Vega's mother, is Arroz Con Mariscos ($6.80), a seafood fried rice very similar to the Spanish paella. Its contents: white rice, crab sticks, prawns, mussels, carrots and green beans fried altogether. The result: a serving of very moist and tasty fried rice. For customers who are unable to eat seafood, a chicken version, Arroz Con Pollo, is available at the same price.

Although Ms Vega is determined to serve authentic Costa Rican food, she has made a slight modification to one dish to suit Singaporean taste buds. Casado ($6.80), a typical Costa Rican meal, is traditionally served with a side of beans. However, Ms Vega leaves them out. "I am scared about adding them. I don't know if Singaporeans will like them. They're black beans which look a bit strange."

But for customers who are looking to have Casado just as they do in Costa Rica, do not fret: the beans are available for an extra dollar.

Life is Beautiful
99 Duxton Road
6423 0939
Opens on March 28

New Orleans is indisputedly one of America's top cities for food - so it's about time that Singaporeans, too, get a taste of their famous fare with the opening of NOLA-inspired restaurant, Life is Beautiful, at the end of the month.

Short for 'New Orleans, Louisiana', NOLA cuisine is characterised by its hearty flavours, multi-cultural ingredients and rustic cooking methods introduced by early Cajun and Creole immigrants to the city.

Traditional dishes such as seafood gumbo and jambalaya will be given "tongue-in-cheek, modern twists" at Life is Beautiful to suit the local climate and palates, according to Switzerland-born, Australia-raised head chef Robert Staedler.

The classic Southern dish of chicken and waffles, for instance, will feature a whole chicken marinated for three days in buttermilk and coated in waffle crumbs, rather than served on a whole waffle. He's also in talks with suppliers to source sausages and seafood directly from New Orleans, says Chef Staedler. The 17-year industry veteran worked his way up in fine dining establishments in Melbourne and was previously head chef of Ku De Ta Bali and consultant chef to Singapore's now-defunct Supperclub, where he met the restaurant's partners. "The partners are trying to create a new culture in Singapore where instead of having to leave a restaurant to go to a club, diners can stay on and have both in the same spot," says Chef Staedler.

Set in a conservation shophouse on the corner of Duxton Road and Duxton Hill, the 4,000 square foot minimalist space featuring plenty of concrete and handcrafted timber furniture will seat 50-60 for dinner and gradually transform into a buzzy bar with standing room for 200 as the night progresses.

Bar manager Tyler Hudgens, meanwhile, is a New Orleans transplant and will draw up a roster of tipples around craft beers and craft spirit-based classic cocktails such as Sazeracs and Vieux Carres, all in homage to the city's storied drinking culture.

Zott
97 Amoy Street
Opens in April

Even as adventurous foodies, we have to claim ignorance: what exactly is Alpine cuisine? According to the people behind brand new Alpine restaurant, Zott, it is food bearing influences from the six countries touched by the Alps mountain range in Europe, namely France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and even Slovenia.

And that's what they'll be serving at their soon-to-open fine dining space on Amoy Street. While Austrian head chef Lorenz Griesser is still tinkering with the menu, they'll likely have dishes such as the quirkily named Bondage Chicken, a juicy roasted chicken served with truffle mayonnaise or fruity sour cream, to be paired with regional tipple such as schnapps and cocktails working in indigenous Alpine ingredients and herbs.

Named after its owner Christian Zott, a 17-year German resident of Singapore branching out into F&B from the logistics industry for the first time, Zott will seat 45 on the ground floor in a wood-encased space reminscent of a ski lodge, while a second floor bar helmed by Munich-born mixologist-turned-restaurant manager, Woldemar Bock, will seat 35.


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